Pictures: Gary Anthony
Words: Margaret Chrystall
THE second night of goNORTH music showcases in Inverness on Thursday promised a legendary pig-out on an international menu of 33 kinds of deliciousness.
But learning the lessons of the night before - the fleeting memories, the tantalising tiny soundbites of acts you might have loved given a longer stay – the stamp-collecting approach to band “bagging” was abandoned for something a little more satisfying. So the “seen-‘em” count might have been lower, but catching more songs from fewer bands is always going to be a more fulfilling experience.
For an occasion like a showcasing event where the person who can make your career could be a face in the crowd, there are possibly new rules for the acts.
Though it was great that Stornoway’s THE BROKEN RAVENS, Inverness bands LIONEL and SCHNARFF SCHNARFF built their sets to climax on their killer songs – watching them at the Ironworks throughout the evening, there was an uncomfortable feeling that for a showcase event where the industry bigwigs are always on the move to the next band on the list, the big numbers should come earlier in the set.
THE BROKEN RAVENS’ White Gold is a slice of thrilling, storytelling genius, but came at the end of a set that - for some reason –seemed to chug in the middle, lead singer Bugsy’s rumbling earthquake of a voice sometimes overshadowed by the guitars in the sound mix and the tight, dramatic theatre of their best performances clogged or diluted somehow by the frontman’s easy banter.
Lord Of The Rings actor Billy Boyd - perhaps not surprisingly – does supreme confidence and good banter too, instantly connecting with his audience for his band BEECAKE’s opening set at The Room on Thursday. Well maybe not instantly – or were we just shy in the presence of a Hollywood movie star?
“Has everyone got a drink?” Billy politely asked to a wary silence, until two girls piped up to cheer and everyone breathed again. First song Soul Swimming revealed to anyone who had never heard the band before that Billy’s light, appealing voice has every right to front a band.
“We’re going to try some new songs tonight because we are going in to make a new album, though you can buy the old one from over there with T-shirts,” said Billy.
And just when he was starting to make it all look too easy, he announced the next song as one about growing up in the East End of Glasgow – but was corrected quietly by the drummer. With a grin, Billy backtracked: “This isn’t about growing up in Glasgow – that will be the one after this one about being obsessed with what we have, cars and big houses, Images.”
But it was time to catch Stornoway’s MISS IRENIE ROSE in the Phoenix, where she tested her crowd with a riddle about how long it took to plough different sides of a field. Meanwhile time passed too quickly when it came to getting a headful of her quirky songwriting and uber-Joni Mitchell voice, more powerful and surer on the top notes - and all her own in Big Bad Wolf with its rich, looped self-built backing.
Inverness via Glasgow band SCHNARFF SCHNARFF have been enjoying a wave of hype which is fully justified in the way they just get better each time you see them. And frontman Myles has a lesson in radiating the charisma and control of a band leader. But the call and return format flips the visual interest elsewhere, while using all your band members pulled the crowd's gaze to each side of the stage with some overhead clapping for us to be joining in with. Urrrgh is the final high – as ever. But - DO believe the hype.
Rehearsed to an impressive synchronicity for their Phoenix set, Inverness upbeat acoustic/pop three-piece CRYPTIC KEYS’ track Jumping Trains had apparently impressed label Wall Of Sound’s Mark Jones enough at the earlier Demo Jury to lure him along to catch them live for himself.
Their song had seen him defending pop to the other jurors on the panel – “pop is not a four-letter word” he’d insisted. Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway had admitted the band’s sound was too mainstream for him and the remit of his new music show.
But he also had positive things to say about the track.: “I can see that record going onto a mainstream label – a major record label because It’s excellently performed, excellently written and of the recordings we have heard today it has the most chance of succeeding. I think it definitely has the commercial potential.”
They started their live set with Head To Toe, singer Dail MacDonald swiftly joined by Rhia Innes on vocals with Mike MacGillivray on guitar. And Believe which, Dail told the crowd had been written for their recent performance at Brew At The Bog, also majored on the seamless unity of Dail and Rhia’s voices.
TIJUANA BIBLES from Glasgow were instantly intriguing with a singer in Tony Costello who echoes Edwyn Collins maverick vocals and a band that sounds part-klezmer/jazz and part roots/rock.
But across the road in the Ironworks, Inverness band LIONEL turned in a confident appearance with This Isn’t the highlight of the songs in the snapshot before moving on, singer Josh Mackenzie thanking the audience: “There are quite a lot of people out there and we know that there is a lot of good acts on so we appreciate it.”
Though it was hard to leave, it was lucky – otherwise Mad Hatters would have been too far and SIOBHAN WILSON’s set just too popular to get into.
In a loose pale blue shirt and holding a cool silver guitar, the singer with Tommy Reilly accompanying on their co-written song You Make Everything Better, did what she did at Brew At The Bog – charmed like a witch with a surefire love spell.
“What’s a girl to do? Let’s make this come together,” Siobhan sang before whispering, almost to herself, “You make everything better …Three, four” as she counted herself to the end of the line. The packed-out venue strained to catch every syllable and it felt a shame to even breathe as Siobhan and Tommy made it to the song’s last line, caught each other’s eye and synchronised the last note together.
“I like goNORTH,” Siobhan grinned.
“There’s not really a job in this song for you,” she teased Tommy. But he got to help orchestrate the audience and she conducted our clapping at the end after grinning her way through those weird, backwards yodel effects we unwisely attempted to join in on (she does it better) in the chorus of True Sayings.
At the end of the song, Siobhan spoke for all of us: “I am having such a good night. This is one of the best gigs ever."
Then she added: “This is the last song.”
“Boooo!” the audience yelled.
“Don’t boo me!” Siobhan protested, in the tiny high voice of a scared fledgling.
And while we were still feeling guilty for booing, she got in her plug for her CD EPs for sale and – and after what we’d just heard her sing – made £6 sound like the bargain of the century and signing up to her mailing list, the only way we could bear to continue to live on this earth.
“We’re having a big party tonight and we’re definitely All Dressed Up,” Siobhan introduced yet another of her signature songs.
It tells the story of the other woman, dressing up for her man who won’t give up on his original partner to commit fully.
It’s a kind of Jolene-esque tale, the woman in the song recognising how beautiful her rival is, but betraying a slightly sinister innocence, wondering why the original woman won’t just free up the man all the same: “I’m all dressed up tonight, better than she ever could/… She is so beautiful with her blonde curly hair/ …You say it would break her heart in two, what about you? What about you?”
It’s a devastating finale that makes the most of Siobhan’s voice which she coaxes and plays with to show off its power and subtlety. And she literally left the whole room wanting more.
Was it the set of the entire showcasing extravaganza? Probably – certainly many tweets afterwards suggested people felt they’d seen something special from Siobhan. But your ears, eyes and brain had already told you that.
But my other contender for set of goNORTH wasn’t even included on the showcasing menu.
When you are RM HUBBERT, the man behind the reigning Scottish Album Of The Year,
Thirteen Lost & Found, you’ve got nothing to prove. You don’t need to hold up your musical wares for inspection. You don’t need to brace yourself for criticism. You don’t need to pimp "you" to the music industry dream-makers. Yet in a guest slot for invited guests at Inverness Town House on Thursday, Hubby did the perfect micro-set in just three songs.
Bolt from third album Breaks & Bone hushed the crowd and finishing that, Hubby said wryly: “I decided to do my happy songs tonight. I decided to do my happy songs as this was clearly a happy event,” he told us.
His version of traditional folk song The False Bride came next, and the dark lyrics about losing a true love went “… Now dig me a grave” as the singer whispered to us: “I was totally lying about the happy songs bit!”.
But the crowd were getting wellied into their own conversations and Hubby didn’t get far before interrupting himself.
“Hey people! “ he addressed the room, with a slight edge to his voice. “Ten minutes of your time, please! I’ve got one more song, then you can get on with the business of drinking and eating canapés. I know that’s why I got into this business!”
As silence fell, he grinned like a delighted kid.: “That worked! F***ing hell.”
And the final number came from the second album, Thirteen Lost & Found, The Car Song – written with Aidan Moffat, “a very talented man from Falkirk”.
And in that tiny three-song set, he did it all.
Take your music seriously. Be light-hearted about it.
Write your own music. Reinterpret a classic. Collaborate with an admired fellow traveller.
Make us laugh. Make us sad.
Remind us you're not background music to be talked over. Charm us back onside.
Play your instrument blindingly beautifully.
Sing from the heart.